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Evidentiary hearing conducted for actual innocence claim

Where petitioner seeks to overturn his convictions arising from an assault of a co-worker by petitioning for a writ of actual innocence based on nonbiological evidence, the court has taken testimony and cross-examination of witnesses as ordered by the Court of Appeals.

Several of the witnesses gave credible testimony. One witness’s testimony in particular “makes the probability that [someone else] committed some sort of assault … likely.”


Harrison, petitioner Dennis’s co-worker, was attacked at the newspaper, The Daily Press, where both of them worked in 1997. Harrison was beaten with a pipe and shot several times by an assailant who fled the scene. Harrison identified Dennis as the assailant. He was convicted of malicious wounding, attempted murder and displaying a firearm while committing a felony.

Since then, “petitioner has gathered information from multiple witnesses to suggest that Abdul Hasib Al-Musawwir, another employee of the newspaper, committed the assault on Lynwood Harrison[.] …

“[T]he allegations reveal a narrative that Al-Musawwir attacked someone, stole coins from the Daily Press building, and fled the scene in a car with a woman. This general narrative was reported by some witnesses who do not know each other. Neither any of these witnesses nor facts were known by the Petitioner at the time of his trial in 1998.”

Petitioner argued that Al-Musawwir “confessed to multiple people” that he committed the Oct. 9, 1997, attack. The Court of Appeals rejected the petition but the Virginia Supreme Court reversed, ruling that petitioner was entitled to further fact finding in a circuit court proceeding before his petition is decided.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case with instructions to hear testimony from five witnesses and to make specific findings regarding witness credibility. The Court of Appeals asked this court to determine with respect to each witness whether Al-Musawwir made admissions to them “in which he confessed to the shooting of Lynwood Harrison at the Daily Press on October 9, 1997.”

The court has heard from four witnesses and has found three of them, including Koneta Walker, Al-Musawwir’s former girlfriend, to be credible. The other two credible witnesses were housed in the same jail facility as Al-Musawwir, who was serving a sentence for shooting Walker. Another inmate at the facility did not provide credible testimony. The fifth witness, who was mentioned by the three inmate witnesses, is deceased.


“Over twenty years have passed since the attack occurred at the Daily Press building on Lynwood Harrison. Memories fade and capturing testimony that truly encapsulate[s] the events that occurred that night in 1997 is difficult.

“The testimony of three credible witnesses collectively holds some inconsistencies. However, they paint a picture of an attack occurring at the Daily Press building, where a man is assaulted and the assailant gets away in a car driven by his girlfriend. In particular, Ms. Walker’s testimony makes the probability that Al-Musawwir committed some sort of assault at the Daily Press Building likely.”

The record of these proceedings will be filed in the Court of Appeals and provided to all appropriate parties.

In Re: Dennis. CR98037744-00 (Certified Finding of Fact), Oct. 2, 2019. Newport News Cir. Ct. (Mills). VLW 019-8-091, 11 pp.

VLW 019-8-091

Virginia Lawyers Weekly